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Chico's Shelley Broader, Next Conversation With a CEO on Nov. 8

By Keith Morelli

Shelley Broader

TAMPA (October 18, 2017) -- Sitting at the top of the Chico's FAS empire, Shelley Broader traces the beginnings of her mega-successful business career to a time when she may have oversold her experience. But what came out of that ordeal of self-doubt was an inner discovery that she is a lifelong learner who is not afraid to accept challenges and prevail in whatever role she is in.

Fresh out of Washington State University in the mid-1980s, and holding a bachelor's degree in political science and communications, she wanted to go home to Spokane, but her mother made a heartfelt offer she couldn't refuse.

"My mom said, 'You're not going to live in the basement,'" Broader said. "Even though we were financially tight, my mom gave me the most amazing gift. She gave me first and last months' rent and money for a plane ticket to anywhere I wanted to go. She said: 'You only have experienced Spokane and Washington. The world is much bigger than that. See what's out there and have an adventure.'"

Broader, whose career includes C-suite positions with Walmart, Michaels and Delhaize group and who now is the president and CEO of Chico's FAS, will be the guest speaker at the Muma College of Business Conversation with a CEO scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 8 at the University of South Florida Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in downtown Tampa.

She could have headed to nearby Seattle or even San Francisco for her first job after graduation.

"But I randomly picked Boston," she said. "I packed up and moved to Boston. I knew no one and had no place to live. I found an apartment and got a job at Massachusetts Financial Services. I was not a finance major, but I did have a college degree and they were hiring. So, of course, I said I knew the stock market and investments and I started out selling mutual funds to stock brokers.

"The whole thing taught me an invaluable lesson," she said. "I really didn't understand mutual funds in a legitimate way, so I worried that I had oversold my skill set. Then, I voraciously studied and learned every mutual fund I could sell. They had 25 funds and soon, I knew all those different funds. I knew more than anybody else."

The experience taught her lessons that she carries with her to this day.

"It was amazing to discover that I am a lifelong learner, applying school skills to learning a craft," she said.

Broader was appointed president and chief executive officer of Chico's FAS in 2015, the latest job in a highly successful business career. She is the former president and chief executive officer of Walmart's EMEA region, where she was responsible for retail operations and business development across Europe, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa and Canada.

Prior to joining Walmart in 2010, Broader was president and chief operating officer of Michaels, the world's largest retailer of arts and crafts. And before Michaels, she spent 17 years with the Delhaize Group, where she held a range of leadership roles within the merchandising, distribution, strategy and marketing divisions of Hannaford Brothers and later served as president and chief operating officer of the Kash n' Karry chain and president and chief executive officer of Sweetbay Supermarket..

The wife and mother of two teenagers now works out of Fort Myers, headquarters for Chico's FAS, a women's clothing retailer that has grown from a single Chico's boutique in southwest Florida in 1983 to a public company that has more than 1,500 stores across the United States and Canada and sells merchandise through franchise locations in Mexico. Chico's FAS is the holding company for three women's specialty apparel brands: White House Black Market, Chico's and Soma. Over the first six months of this year, Chico's FAS has netted more than $56 million.

Along the way, Broader discovered finance wasn't really her thing. Her passion was retail.

"I loved working with customers, with products and with associates," she said. Where better to practice retail than at Walmart?

Being a CEO at Walmart involved a truly global perspective, she said, working with foreign governments in new countries. "A lot of it was capitalistic diplomacy," she said.

"Walmart has a pretty big footprint," she said. "And, I've always been fascinated by Walmart's 'Everyday-Low-Price' model. I joined them to run the Canadian division at first, and then took the job that was responsible for retail in Europe, the Middle East and Africa."

But boiled down, CEOs anywhere have the same basic duties.

"The day-to-day business of being a CEO; the responsibility of growing the business, teaching, training, profits, that's pretty universal language," she said. "The greatest responsibility of a CEO, though, and one of the best pleasures of a CEO, is the ability to train, coach and craft his or her own leadership team. I inherited amazing executives when I got here and I've recruited some world-class talent."

So, now, she is focused on success at Chico's FAS.

"We've seen, over the past decade, and really over the past five years, an unbelievable change in retail," she said. "It used to be simply, the best price for the best product won. Now, retailers no longer are being called on to choose what their customers will buy. Customers search out what they want on their computers, tablets and iPhones. Specialty retailing today is totally different from what it had been for so long and successful businesses must find their own way in this new world.

"We are trying to build our business through the lens of our customer, how to do it today, versus how they did it yesterday," Broader said. Customer interaction is the cornerstone of success, she said, that's not changed.

Focusing on customers now includes a heavy dose of data analytics.

"We know who our customers are and now, technology is telling us how to market to those customers," she said. "We have a loyalty program that started back in 1983 and we have specific data on customers dating back to then.

"Now, through the magic of algorithms, the science of retailing has changed," she said. "Collecting the data is not an issue. Mining and interpreting the data is the issue."

Analytics have told her that customers' interests and needs are shifting.

"There are all kinds of shifts happening in commerce, consumer research and social media," she said. "There's a shift of how consumers spend their dollars today. Where, a decade ago, a lot of money was spent on the collection of personal assets, a better car or a house. Now, more is being spent on experiences like vacations, education, exercise and travel. Spending has changed. We've got to stay relevant to that."

Broader's drive to succeed may be traced back to when she was a teenager in Washington.

"I lost my father in a traffic accident at a very young age," she said. "I was 14 and it was a tremendous life-changing event. Something like that changes your trajectory.

"I became much more responsible for myself," said Broader, one of four siblings. "Our family then had a choice. We could all move back to Montana and stay with my grandparents or we all could go to work and pull together. And that's what we did.

"We all developed a very strong work ethic."

Find out more of what Broader has to say on these and other topics at the Muma College of Business Conversation with a CEO. To register, click here.